Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Salak Bali

In Bali, my finger nails got all red because of constantly peeling and eating Salak, or 'snake fruit'. One look at it and you understand why it is called so - it is covered by a reddish-brown, scaly dry skin, like a round little reptile. It crackles when you peel it off and reveals three dryish, huge 'cloves' of fruit with an apple-like taste and crumbly, starchy consistency. Delicious and addictive!

A bit more on this fruit, courtesy Wikipedia:
Salak (Salacca zalacca) is a species of palm tree (family Arecaceae) native to Indonesia and Malaysia. The fruit grow in clusters at the base of the palm. They are about the size and shape of a ripe fig, with a distinct tip. The fruit can be peeled by pinching the tip which should cause the skin to slough off so it can be pulled away. Salak Bali is commonly sold all over the island of Bali, and is a popular fruit with both locals and tourists. It is also a favourite of the monkeys found in the famous "Monkey Forests", with the animals often stealing fruit from visitors, especially children whom they see as an easier target.

Freshly squeezed

Inspired by another lavish buffet breakfast at a 5-star hotel, I decided to get up a bit earlier every morning, take out my rusting away juicer, and squeeze out something refreshing and colourful to start the day on a sweet and healthy note! I managed to do it yesterday and today, and both me and hubby enjoyed it thouroughly! First of all, it made me wake up early (and I am NOT a morning person). Second, slicing and manipulating the fruit, and the ensuing fresh aroma, was positively meditative. Third, it gave us more time to chat in the morning, sipping juice at the terrace of our beautiful flat overlooking the Arabian Sea which we will have to leave next month due to the lease expiring. Sigh! So imagine that: shimmering waters, great conversation, the morning newspaper, and a glass of brighly coloured, fruity, citrusy, vitamin goodness. Actually juice is such an intrinsic part of the Indian diet, but as usual I am being a "late bloomer".

Yesterday I made pomelo, orange and lime juice. It was awesome and invigorating, except that later on it gave me a bout of acidity!

This morning, I made watermelon juice. I bought a medium sized watermelon at the neighbourhood supermarket, and left it in the fridge overnight. Funnily enough, slicing it brought long-forgotten childhood memories to me - you know, one of these things that come back to you in a flash and you have the feeling of vaguely recollecting a past life... In Sofia, the beginning of summer was marked by the arrival of gypsy families from all over the country, setting tent at the roadside, and spreading mountains of dark green or light green with stripes watermelons. So throughout this season, watermelons became a staple dessert in most Bulgarian households. My mom and I used to get off the bus (number 306) one stop earlier, as "the best guy" had set up business there, and then lug a couple of watermelons all the way home, taking a shortcut through the neighbourhood school yard. I remembered my parents teaching me how to choose a good watermelon: first, weigh it in your palm; then, start tapping it like a drum, to see if it has this nice hollow sound which means it is ripe and sweet; to confirm the ripeness, look at the little stub on top - if it is already brown, it means it has laid around for enough time to ripen nicely. Some sellers, to show off how nice their watermelons are, would cut out neat tiny triangular pyramids into the fruit and take them out like a cork, to show the colour of the flesh. We would reach home, wash the watermelon thouroughly, then proceed to cut it in boat shapes (something I would do so deflty as a kid made me almost slice off a finger this morning!). For a really good watermelon, just sticking the knife in was enough for it to crack open with an awesome crunchy sound. And my mother would call us to the kitchen: "Look at this beauty! It cracked open by itself!" I remember my dad eating watermelon with cheese which I found yucky! Yep, all these memories came back rushing to me this morning (thank you, watermelon!) while I squeezed out the most refreshing and sweet, ruby red juice. I relished it, although it made me run to the loo every 10 minutes all the way till noon!

Tomorrow I am planning sweet lime (a cross between an orange and lime), lemon and apple mix.

Other juices on my list:
- carrot and apple
- pineapple
- grape
- cucumber and apple

Malaysian breakfast

Recently on a Malaysia Air flight, I was offered Nasi Kandar, a traditional Malaysian breakfast. I jumped on the opportunity to try something new. It came hot, looking more like a lunch - rice, boiled egg, fish in masala, the whole thing sprinkled with peanuts and tiny dried fish flakes. It was absolutely delicious and comforting. Fish and rice in any case is one of my favourite combinations, and I relished it, with the added crunch of the fish flakes. The only thing was the lingering smell and taste of fish, something we Europeans are not used to early in the morning.
But it seems Malaysians don't kid around with their breakfast. It is a major meal of the day and not just a meagre snack gulped down on the way to office. Apart from Nasi Kandar, they also indulge in Nasi Dagang (glutinous rice cooked in coconut milk, served with fish curry, coconut sambal, and cucumber pickle), chicken and vegetable Congee (something like our oats, but made of rice), and Roti Telur (something like crepes).
I guess having a heavy breakfast is common in Asian, predominantly agrarian countries. In India too, a typical villager's breakfast would be Aloo Parathas (flat bread stuffed with potatoes), idli sambar (steamed rice cakes with thin curry), Sabudana Kichdi (sago pearls fried with spices and curry leaves)... Yummy! But then, these guys then go out and work hard in the fields, quickly burning all those extra calories! While we sit staring at computer screens all day long!!! Food for thought...

Tuesday, March 4, 2008